Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, a yearly reminder of massive cruelty and death and an attempt at genocide against the Jewish people during World War II.
It is common to say “never again” but we have continued to see civil wars and government/military actions against civilians and particular groups across the world over these intervening decades, a list so long I will not attempt to compile it here.
Presently, most of the world is watching in horror as Putin’s invasion of Ukraine continues. Because of modern technology and press and residents on the ground, we see the bodies of civilians left in the streets, the cities bombed into rubble, the mass graves. We hear the first-hand accounts of survivors of what they have witnessed and endured, including rape, kidnapping, and torture.
So far, the condemnation of the the vast majority of countries in the United Nations General Assembly, wide-ranging sanctions against Russia, and supplying military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine have not stopped Putin’s aggression and escalation of atrocities. Over and over, Russia has said they will allow ceasefires and humanitarian corridors for evacuation of civilians and for aid to those who are staying but they have never followed through.
In recent days, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres met in person with Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Putin has agreed “in principle” to UN and International Red Cross involvement in humanitarian aid and evacuation of civilians from the besieged city of Mariupol. Talks are ongoing but there is at least hope that there will be some relief for civilians soon.
Meanwhile, Russia is continuing its saber-rattling, signaling that it wants to sweep from eastern Ukraine across the entire south along the Black Sea and into the neighboring country of Moldova. It is also threatening the countries who are aiding Ukraine and sanctioning Russia with retaliation and possible use of weapons of mass destruction. There is already massive evidence that Russia has violated many international laws and even committed war crimes, but, so far, the international community has not been able to stop the war, death, and destruction.
One tool that the UN has is action by the Security Council but Russia is a permanent member with veto power and has blocked all efforts at this. This week, there has been a resolution adopted by the General Assembly which will require any of the five permanent member states who exercises a Security Council veto to appear within ten days before the General Assembly so that all member states can scrutinize and comment on the veto. While they can’t override the veto, it’s at least a public and official action.
Here is a three-paragraph quote from the United Nations story linked above:
“Noting that all Member States had given the Council the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and agreed that it acts on their behalf, he [Liechtenstein’s Ambassador, Christian Wenaweser] underscored that the veto power comes with the responsibility to work to achieve ‘the purposes and principles of the UN Charter at all times‘.
“ ‘We are, therefore, of the view that the membership as a whole should be given a voice when the Security Council is unable to act, in accordance with this Assembly’s functions and powers reflected in the Charter,’ particularly Article 10, he said.
“Article 10 spells out that the Assembly may discuss any questions or matters within the scope of the Charter or the powers and functions of any organs provided for within it, and, except as provided in Article 12, ‘may make recommendations to the Members of the United Nations or to the Security Council or to both on any such questions or matters.’ ”
Meanwhile, we are all watching and hearing about the immense suffering and death every day and trying to be supportive but realizing that we don’t have the power to end this war with a just peace. Part of the tension is not knowing what the next day or week or month will bring.
I was not alive during World War II but wonder if the feelings of apprehension and helplessness are similar to what people felt then. The difference now is that we have much greater access to accurate information in near-real time than was available then. We don’t have to wait for the liberation of concentration camps to see the full extent of the horrors as we did with the Holocaust. We can see the bodies of executed civilians in the streets; the bombed hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings; the mass graves. We can hear the stories of women who were raped by soldiers, civilians injured by Russian bullets or bombs, people who are trying to survive without food or water in besieged cities.
It’s not “never again.” It’s now. In Ukraine. In Afghanistan. In Ethiopia. In South Sudan. In Syria. In Yemen. In too many places to list them all.
Perhaps “never again” at this point is a call to never again turn away from those who are suffering, to never again say it is someone else’s problem, to never again stay silent in the face of injustice and destruction.
A call to refuse to surrender to hopelessness that there will ever be an end to war and violence. A call to make that hope into reality.